As Bernadette’s No-self excursion continued she was beginning to feel the ramifications for not having a “within” to turn to for solace…
In time, this emptiness became increasingly pronounced and difficult to live with. Without an “inner” life or the slightest movement within, the seeing had become my life; I was totally dependent upon it, and without it, I had not a thing to fall back on.
Suddenly I was aware that all life around me had come to a complete standstill. Everywhere I looked, instead of life, I saw a hideous nothingness invading and strangling the life out of every object and vista in sight. It was a world being choked to death by an insidious void, whereby every remaining movement was but the final throe of death. The sudden withdrawal of life, left in its wake a scene of death, dying, and decay so monstrous and terrible to look upon, I thought to myself: no man can see this and live! My body froze to the spot. I concluded the self had been frozen and entombed within me in full consciousness of its state of immobility, death, and total helplessness. Unwittingly I had been lured and entrapped in this monstrous state of no-self, an irreversible state because, once gone, the self can never return. Thus in these moments, surrounded by a terror I could not feel, and from which I could not escape, I seemed doomed to remain in the unlivable condition of having to stare out at a horrible nothingness without a single weapon of defense.
If the reader is experiencing some shock and awe upon reading Bernadette’s horror it needs to be reinforced that the void is nothing to fear. Another spiritual sojourner offers the following…
What do you do in the Void then? You let it be by letting go into it without any need to control it whatsoever.
Only do what you feel inclined to do in the moment, and many times for many people there’s a purging process going on at the same time.
So get rid of things, burn old journals, clean out your closets and the fridge, spend time offline, go for walks in silence, be in nature, take some time to be alone etc.
You don’t really have to ‘do’ anything more than that. The most important aspect of this phase is to let it Do You.
Let it transform you, knowing there’s nothing you need to do to ‘help it’.
Only let it.
When one arrives at the realization that encountering the Void is unavoidable, the best course of action is really non-action, falling back into a Wu-wei frame of mind. Accompanying this is receiving a healthy-dose of the Heart Sutra:
The Bodhisattva Avalokiteśvara,
while moving in the deep course
of Perfect Understanding,
shed light on the five skandhas and
found them equally empty.
form is emptiness, and emptiness is form.
Form is not other than emptiness, emptiness
is not other than form.
The same is true with feelings, perceptions,
mental formations, and consciousness.
In point of fact YOU ARE emptiness! You don’t have a separate-self cringing in some corner deathly afraid of the Voidness. Fear is a skandhic-thing, and when the aggregates are disbanded there is no personal-self to experience the supposed horrors of a human existence.
At this junction, Bernadette became tempted to mourn her loss of a self and fall back into clinging to the all-too-human equation:
While sitting there watching the people around me, I decided that having no-self was as bad, if not worse, than having a self; because once beyond the self, a man was just as likely to come across an unlivable nothingness as he was a marvelous, unnameable “something” — as I first seemed to do. To put aside the self is a premature laying down of our weapons before we know for sure what lies ahead. It’s all an insane risk. Without a self, man is totally vulnerable to the winds of chance — bode they good or ill. Looking at the young people around me, I was glad they had a self; in fact, the greatest blessing I could wish upon all the peoples of the earth was to have a self. That way, they would never be able to see what I had just seen and what no man could see and live with.
This was a wrong assessment. After tasting Voidness there is no turning back to the ways of the puthujjana. It’s making the attempt to do so that the real terror creeps in because you are relying upon something less than and inadequate to your Actual Selfhood.
Right here, I realized how totally my life depended upon the toughness of the immovable stillness within, for I knew that the slightest feeling of fear or panic and these icy fingers, which were like sudden flashes of light in my head, would invade my entire being, resulting in madness. But I had no control over this silence, it wasn’t even me, rather, it was all that remained of a self that-was. Thus, my fate now lay in the precarious balance between the stillness within and an unknowable terror that could suddenly appear in my mind.
This toughness of the immovable stillness within is more on target. You stare into the Void the Void stares back into you. The Feeling IS awful because you’re finally saying adieu to the skandhic trap. When one stays put in that immovable stillness something wonderful arrives on the horizon:
I was not aware of the moment when the dreadful thing departed, for the next thing I was aware of was a profound stillness wherein there was no physical sensation at all. After a while, something must have turned my head. I found myself looking, eye-level, at a small, yellow wildflower, no more than twelve inches away.
I cannot describe that moment of seeing; words could never do it justice. Let us just say it smiled — like a smile of welcome from the whole universe. In the intensity of the smile, the light of the eye did not go out, nor was there a physical body to turn away; finally, the great intensity could be endured.
For a Zen Buddhist, that “smile of the flower” is immediately recognized as something profound. But we will return to this later when she makes allusion to it time and time again.
Apart from the absence of the dreadful thing which I never saw again, I came up the hill without any sense of true existence. Though I searched everywhere in what should have been my being, I now felt there was nothing substantial there, nothing left that I had not experienced as either dissolving, or suddenly disappearing and leaving nothing in its place. As for “that” which remained, I had no idea what it was, where it was, or even, if it was. Though something obviously climbed the hill, it would be a long time before I discovered its true nature; for the moment, all I knew was that a great change had taken place.
Yes—it is the Unborn Itself that was moving her limbs up that hill. An Unborn Mind adept knows this realization only too well. As we shall soon discern this Unbornness was slowly revealing Itself to Bernadette and would offer her a solace beyond all understanding.